Henry Rollins: Why I Don't Hang Out After the Show
Heidi May

Henry Rollins: Why I Don't Hang Out After the Show

I am backstage at Largo for the eighth and final show of the run here. I like the venue but it’s a tough room. The stage is a bit too dark for me. I like bright lights that bring out the sweat immediately.

A great audience shows up at Largo, but I am never sure if I reach them or not. Los Angeles is a fast city and people are sharp, like London or Boston. I always leave the stage never all that sure how well the night went.

Tonight will be show No. 139 for the year, with four more at the end of the month, to total out at 143. The last tour finished at 190 shows, so this year’s numbers are weak.

There is a melancholy that hits me around this point of a tour. I am not looking forward to the shows ending on Jan. 15 in Orlando. If I had it my way, I would be going back to Europe, as I did late last year, to start the whole thing over again. This is my favorite time of the year, because of the lower temperatures and early darkness. I associate it with touring. If I had to depict it in a drawing, it would be black lines connecting to yellow boxes — the black lines being the roads at night, the yellow boxes being the venues, full of light and sound.

After tonight’s show is over, I’ll do what I’ve been doing on all the other nights, which is to walk directly off of stage right, exit the building, get in my car and drive away. The night and the anonymity of traffic are all I can handle postshow.

Downshifting from a show a night gets more difficult the older I get. Knowing I’ll have difficulty slowing down, I have set up what amounts to a parachute to make splashdown a little easier.

Tomorrow I’ll finalize my pack for an early exit the day after. I will be subbing for the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Rock & Roll aka Iggy Pop, taking over two broadcasts of his BBC Radio 6 show, as well as doing two more to be used by Radio 6 at a later date. I told Iggy’s producer that I would do all the voice work at the BBC. London is one of my favorite cities and it will be good to be there one more time this year.

By the time I get back to L.A. a few days later, I should be somewhat acclimated to the real world. It’s a long way to go to do what could be easily accomplished in one of many studios here, but I am grateful for the opportunity to go to Europe one more time this year and keep moving for a few more days.

Location is key. Ever since I was young, I wanted to go places. When I’m at an airport, miserable as they can be, I feel like I am doing the right thing. Since my time is finite, it’s all about where I drag my carcass.

After so many shows in a year, the challenge of stopping for me is not a matter of going cold turkey but losing a hard-won identity. After months on the road, I become the show. The stage that waits for me nightly is the only reason I am in any of these cities. The whole day is only that which leads up to walking out there and hitting it.

There is an integrity that comes with a show a night, the duty to it, the decision made to be the person who does that thing, that I have never earned any other way. The obligation is dangerously front-loaded, which I quite like. The tickets are sold, the money is in, a large part of it in advance. The cart is way out in front of the horse. It’s not the way I think it should go but it’s how agents and venues operate. It is up to me to put the horse in front. “Every ticket sold is a contract you have with the ticket holder” is something I have never forgotten, ever since David Lee Roth once said that to me.

It’s not the money audience members are spending that sweats me, it’s the time out of their lives they are entrusting me with. That concern, and the compressed state it puts me in, makes for good shows and a clear path to never stray from. This consideration informs my diet, workouts, everything. When that level of expectation comes to an end, real life is frustrating and confusing by comparison.

Time to get ready.

2310 hrs. Tonight’s show was the end of a run of 60 in 62 days. I hated walking out of the venue knowing I won’t be back tomorrow.

In an interesting way to distinguish the final Largo show from the others, I had a minor gear fail. I take a stopwatch onstage with me to keep track of time. (I think it would be rude to look at my watch and would expect someone to yell, “What, somewhere else you need to be?!”) I use it to protect the audience. If I’m not careful, a show can easily go too long. At one point during the set I noticed the stopwatch had stopped at 1:25. I kept on, rudderless. Judging by the clock in the car, I subjected those people to more than two and a half hours. I feel bad about it.

Next day. 1341 hrs. My body is reminding me of its many limitations. Without a show waiting, the vigor of the last several weeks has caught up. Body ache and a thickening of the voice as the vocal cords start to heal are par for the course. I always take it as getting beaten up for leaving the gang.

All great efforts risk some pain upon completion, but clear the deck for the next one.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier

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